For an entire day, I couldn’t seem to get it together. Out of sorts, moody and unable to concentrate, I snapped at a colleague, to whom I later apologized for my frustration. That evening, I vented to a friend.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I told her. “I’ve been a mess all day.”
“What day is it again?” she asked.
“Oct. 1st,” I responded.
“You know, we’re coming up on a year since Quinn died. The body knows,” she said.
There was a long pause.
“Oh,” I responded. “Yeah.”
My friend Quinn died one year ago. And since then, like all of us who knew and loved her, I have been lost as to how to hold my grief or where to put it. I have dreaded the return of Oct. 25, a reminder of the hole in our hearts since she’s been gone. That day also comes exactly one week prior to All Saints’ Day, a day of remembrance I had been unfamiliar with until recent years.
Observed on Nov. 1 in many faith traditions, the sacred day pays homage to the saints, known and unknown, who are deemed to have attained heaven. It is an opportunity to give thanks for those who have gone before us in the faith and to remember and honor the individuals who have exemplified a life of virtue and devotion to God.
Saints are considered role models for the faithful, embodying the teachings of Christ through their actions, sacrifices and unwavering commitment to God. This commemoration underscores the universal call to holiness and the bond between the living and the departed. All Saints’ Day acknowledges the belief in the “communion of saints,” which encompasses the living, the deceased and the saints in heaven, all united in faith. It offers an opportunity for believers to pray for the intercession of saints and to seek inspiration from their lives.
Even though All Saints’ Day has been a part of many Christian traditions, it was a lesser-known holiday within my upbringing in the Black church. While we were familiar with Halloween, we did not know the next day’s Feast of Allhallows, another name for All Saints’ Day.
Whatever the reasons that not all churches mark All Saints’ Day, I wish I’d been introduced to the beliefs that underpin it much earlier in life. I began experiencing loss at a young age, beginning with my friend Norelle, who was killed when I was 16. Every decade since, I have lost someone close to me.
Growing up in a Black Baptist church, I never quite knew what to do with my grief outside of simply believing that my loved ones were “in a better place.” We always did funerals well, but the process of grief in the seasons that followed, not so much. All Saints’ Day offers a spiritual space to remember, honor and celebrate all whom we mourn, together, on the same day every year.
Having a day set aside annually when we can collectively grieve losses and celebrate the lives of the valued individuals who passed before us is a healthy spiritual practice. After all, remembering is a directive of Jesus, who upheld the sacred practice of communion as a space set aside to remember his own sacrifice. As he said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” teaching us what it means to continually remember and celebrate the sacrifice of his life. It makes sense also to offer space for remembrance of the lives of loved ones now among the saints triumphant.
I often wonder how differently I would have processed the losses I had throughout life if I had participated in such observances when I was younger. Knowing of the practice now, I contemplate what I can do to honor my loved ones moving forward. In different cultures and traditions, All Saints’ Day is practiced in different ways. Some people attend special church services or parades that honor the saints. Some visit cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of family members and friends. Some light a candle, offer a prayer or observe a moment of silence. All Saints’ Day reminds me that in the midst of all my loss, there is a holy opportunity to actively mourn. It reminds me that we should not overlook our sorrow. It reminds me that holding space for the pain of loss is a sacred act.
This year, instead of dreading the day that marks Quinn’s death, I anticipate honoring the life of my friend. Perhaps my struggles to find meaning in her death have led me, now, to create practices that will push me toward finding meaning in her life. I am not sure what I will do, but I am committing to doing something to commemorate All Saints’ Day and to remember Quinn and the losses that came before.
I will give thanks to God for the lives of all the saints. I may not grieve perfectly, but this year, I will grieve well.
Having a day set aside annually when we can collectively grieve losses and celebrate the lives of the valued individuals who passed before us is a healthy spiritual practice.